FARGO, N.D. — Halon fire extinguishers worked on the principle of tying up enough oxygen so the fire can’t burn. They were considered by firefighting professionals to be the ideal extinguishing agent.
Halon was rated for Classes A, B and C fires. The National Fire Protection Association termed it as a “clean agent” because it did not conduct electricity, did not leave a residue and was not harmful to humans.
However, the federal government said Halon was dirty because it contained CFCs and was an ozone-depleting substance. On Jan. 1, 1994, it became illegal to produce new Halon fire extinguishers.
Halon already encapsulated in fire extinguishers could be used up as needed, but those extinguishers could not be re-filled. Militaries were allowed to continue making and using Halon.
This was a blow to many sectors that had come to depend on Halon fire extinguishers, such as the restaurant industry, machine shops, food processing plants and the aircraft industry. Thus the global search was on for a substance to match the characteristics of Halon without the taint of CFC.
That search has finally proven successful, according to Bob Whitman, a fire safety consultant with AKE Safety Equipment in Rochester, Minnesota.
Whitman was at the Big Iron Show in Fargo to promote Stop Fire extinguishers, which he says are considered to be a viable re-placement for Halon.
“Halon was an excellent fire stopper. It was a compressed gas. The expansion rate was very rapid. They required no maintenance. Dry chems, on the other hand, are a blanketing agent. You must see the base of the fire in order to put it out,” he said.
“The stories I hear from farmers tell me that so many of the fires they encounter on equipment are classed as obstructed fires. They cannot actually see the base. Dry chems don’t do the job for two reasons: failing to discharge and failing to hit the base.
“Halon and Stop Fire are very similar. They’re attracted to the heat of the fire. They displace oxygen and disrupt the chemical process of the flame. You don’t need to hit the base directly with the agent. If the extinguisher is aimed in the general area, they’ll put it out.”
Whitman said Stop Fire is a proprietary blend of gases that accomplish much the same result as Halon. The two chemists who devised Stop Fire spent 12 years coming up with a blend that does the best job of mimicking Halon but without the CFCs.
He said Stop Fire does not require maintenance.
Whitman said it’s unfortunate that Halon came off the market just about the time people started to catch on to its advantages.
“Dry chem extinguishers have a failure rate of about 33 percent. One out of three times when you pull the pin, nothing happens,” he said.
“If you’ve got a fire on a half million dollar combine, you want extinguishers that work. Talking to farmers here at the show, they tell me it doesn’t matter if you have insurance. They do not want that fire to spread.
“Stop Fire extinguishers, on the other hand, have a failure rate of about one percent. If the fire is in a chain housing or behind the dash or up near the engine or a chain housing, you have an excellent chance of putting it out.
“Most farmers are shocked when they learn how much attention they’re supposed to be paying to their dry chem extinguishers. You’re supposed to shake them every 30 days. They should be brought in for maintenance once a year. You need to replace the powder and the valve every six years. If you have 20 or 30 extinguishers on the farm, that’s a lot of money.”
Stop Fire extinguishers are maintenance-free and have a life-time warranty. They’re available in three hand-held sizes plus larger automated systems that can have multiple nozzles located throughout a machine.